Last weekend, a Riverview, N.B., man died when he got caught in a rip current while swimming off P.E.I.’s north shore. That same day, an Island mother and her son were lucky to escape a similar fate in a riptide in the waters off Savage Harbour.
These dangerous ocean forces are far from uncommon for a coastal province like ours, and it’s time to start thinking about better ways to prevent incidents like these from occurring in the first place.
Think of it in these terms: if there were deaths every year at any intersection in P.E.I., there would be public calls for investigations about the intersection’s safety, or calls to construct a roundabout.
We must put this same sense of urgency and creative thinking into how we warn people of the dangers of rip currents.
It’s easy to say individual swimmers must be cautious and enter the water at their own risk. But it’s also far too easy to underestimate the power of rip currents, and the insidious way they can occur in waters that appear relatively calm.
Warnings are printed in various tourism publications and published on Parks Canada’s website. But it’s impossible to ensure every Island resident lay eyes on these, let alone visitors from places where tides like these don’t exist.
Both the province and Parks Canada could be more diligent about how they warn the public of rip currents — perhaps through more urgent or automatic alerts to local media and increasing signage in areas that are most susceptible. More education and research are also key. We featured a story earlier this week about University of Windsor student Alexandra Scaman, who’s conducting an online survey about rip currents in hopes of improving safety for beach-goers. Research like this that should help experts better advise governments, lifeguards and the public where and when the danger exists.
Technology could be the greatest asset to public safety.
Many, if not most, always have smartphones in their pockets. The ability exists to push emergency notifications to people’s phones based on their geographical location. Perhaps an enterprising Island tech company could develop an alert system that sends a notification to someone’s phone if they enter an area where rip current conditions exist.
Beaches are an important part of a multimillion dollar tourism industry in P.E.I., and it’s understandable that there may be a reluctance to scare people away from one of the most famous features of our province.
We can’t be shy when people’s lives are at risk, though. Otherwise, those same beaches will quickly go from famous to infamous.